Millionaire influencers were selling spades in the gold rush

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John Keating is the founder and MD of Dark Horse, a PPC and SEO agency in Manchester and unofficial author of several competitor websites. Never featured on Forbes. Connect with John in his favourite place – LinkedIn

Biggest fuck up?

There are so many.

Joining LinkedIn is right up there. Thousands of hours wasted. Thousands of hours silently screaming at fuckwitts swallowing, peddling and echoing goodness knows what. Every morning shower is filled with imaginary arguments I have with the royalty on there. Their time will come.

Bad hires, too….some of those have been cataclysmically bad errors.

Sharpening focus, I think a dock off isolated one was missing the cancellation period of an old office lease by c24 hours.

I wrote down the wrong date. After informing the ‘lovely’ landlord that we wanted to leave, he insisted we carry on for another 3 years and told me bold as brass “You will learn from this and never do this again”. The shit was spot on.

That was a £150k mistake. I offered to pay him £5k for being 24 hours over. Not having any of it. No negotiation at all – I offered 10k… it didn’t matter. There is a reason why he drives a Bentley with a private reg plate….. because he’s a prick. He’s also a ruthless businessman.

It’s my stupid mistake alone and easy to avoid. Details matter. You can’t make up for genuine numbers, money, legals, black and white stuff with culture, likes and smiles.

I managed to luckily find a tenant, and we sublet with the landlord’s gracious ‘benevolence’ but I lost a lot of time and money. I was furious at myself, and it still bites. No one elses fault – just mine. I felt embarrassed.

My inadequacy let everyone else down. I take some growth from it, though, I learned the catharsis of pure Kratos-style rage and to double down on the importance of written follow-ups, always. Calls and conversations don’t exist unless written.

That office lease incident is probably the biggest one-off thing, but it won’t be what haunts me when I move on.

In reality, the biggest fuck up of my career…will be the totality of it all….my career – what it will end up being.

Not in a narcissistic nobby way that I should be CEO of X Corp or something like that…. more just being a better version of me in a better position.

I won’t know about most of the stuff, but it will be opportunities missed by 1000 cuts. It will be a massive company wanting our service but looking at our branding and positioning and thinking, “not for us”. It will be the person who was the MD of a massive company who I bottled speaking to at an event. It will be my blunt-force truth approach turning off a potential investor. It will be not listening to some sage advice when I was an invincible salesperson in my 20s when I knew it all; I was the future and innovative. I now realise that EVERY generation thinks like this and that, individually, I was predictable and lost out.

Regardless of the opportunities missed (ignorance is bliss, after all,) I will with absolute certainty regret not being more outspoken. Not saying what I think of influencers, mob mentality, bullying online, standing up more to the establishment. It’s been too easy for them to get away with mediocrity, bollox and fibs. Marketing and branding washing. Personal brand washing on LinkedIn.

I should have tried to educate more people about agenda, marketing and seeing through it all to what lies beneath. To make up your own mind. To understand that the happy sexy millionaires were the people selling spades in the gold rush and promising something better. Not the hard-working prospectors wanting that shortcut or process to elevate them to that better life.


I don’t rant. People will say otherwise. In my head, at least, I make logical, rational arguments with evidence and show workings out. Some of these will be critical by design. As in Scientific – challenging current thoughts with data and numbers. The simple process that civilisation was built on. If we went with LinkedIn influencer tactics, we would be living on a flat Earth as Pythagoras and Magellan’s views would have been deleted comments.

That probably was a rant.

My arguments with evidence would be around the perception of employers. In 2023, employers universally are bad unless they have over 40k followers, then you enter the pearly gates. Employers are baddies, and non-employers are good. This seems to be a trend reinforced by non-employers, freelancers or recruiters. All of which, it could be argued, have an agenda in this conversation. Think recruiters posting about Leaders V’s Bosses or warning about companies who are like a family. Recruiters never say “have you considered how fucking brilliant your job and boss is?”

The story goes that employers are rich capitalist Dickensian workhouse owners who live to make their teams miserable and extract as much juice as they can. All while having the gall of being a homeowner.  If you don’t offer a 4-day week – you’re a ****. If you don’t allow people to do whatever they want, when they want, how they want – you’re micro-managing and toxic. A walking red flag whose mental health is an irrelevance in the world of BeKind. The last sentence highlights my actual biggest rant: hypocrisy and the lack of mirrors for people to look into….

  • Candidates want purpose and culture over money. Really? I’ve interviewed none who will accept a pay decrease for a better working culture. 0%. That’s a strong statistic. What is LinkedIn crying out for in job descriptions? Salary details. First and foremost. Front and centre. People want both – culture but first more money.
  • Agency owners talk a lot about community and culture in their personal brand-led socials. I didn’t see this before the candidate market happened. How much of it is the agency world reacting to getting its ass kicked? If it’s important, you would think they would have been talking like this for years and years. It’s so authentic that they have hired a personal branding agency to ghostwrite it for them or write it as a comment on one of Justin Welsh’s posts.
  • Candidates are all about sustainability now…….This seems to extend as far as wearing fast fashion items 8 times before disposing of them and using a bamboo toothbrush. Stand and deliver! How is asking for 60k with two years, XP sustainable for SMEs? Huge swathes of the economy are trying to keep heads just above water. Sustainability at home but not with someone else’s money. Not all but some. In nature, there’s a name for a collective that travels from host to host (not job hopping – just finding where it’s valued), securing as much nutrients as possible at the detriment to the host. Begins with P…
  • Contracts. We have contracts for mobile phones, TV, everything. We understand them outside of work. It’s in our interests too. They affect our bank balance and quality of life. If a service provider stopped your TV halfway through your contract or increased prices, you would rightly say something. Employment contracts, however? They don’t seem to count. Example – 3-month notice period that was signed and agreed to? Fuck that, I’ve told my new employer I can start next week, and they are expecting me! We enforce contracts that benefit ourselves, head in the sand on ones that don’t.
  • Values. What are your accountants’ values? Your plumbers? They probably show integrity through their actions and by doing a good job. Agencies plaster it all over their website. The propensity of values to be displayed skyrocketed after the candidate market when talent dried up overnight. Eco Values? Planting 300 trees a year but still flying your team to Ibiza for the vlog? That’s gonna make the B-Corp application a bit more difficult.

I will stop there but could easily go on. When you look at the marketing industry through an external lens – it’s full of unfiltered, pure 24-carat wanky bollocks.  My team’s views are not my own.

Useful advice

Marketing doesn’t have to be Maslow, SWOT analysis and anything that involves a pyramid shape in a textbook.

In my humble opinion, it’s about emotions, feelings….fear, laughter, unexplainable tears. Tap into that. To do that, look no further than what moves you in various sources of media – film, music, literature, art….whatever.

For example, we understand sporting drama, if we could choose – we would daydream about going 3-0 down and winning 4-3 with a last-minute wonder goal against our biggest rivals. The triumph over adversity. We wouldn’t be thinking of a solid clean sheet with a 1-0 and a tremendously disciplined defensive display. We’d choose the emotions and rollercoaster that go with them because it affects us.

Marketing, advertising, stories; we are always dreaming them up in various guises. That’s way more powerful than a brand book talking about purpose, values and whatever intangible non-numbers that someone is selling.

Email yourself, write down notes, organise it… anything that makes you feel something and then tap into it for marketing. Some people buy homes to flip and profit from, it’s cold and logical. Other people buy homes because they find their dream. It makes their heart sing. They feel something. You can appeal to both.

Finally…. Making money is ok.

It’s ok to make money and talk about it. It’s ok for that to be ‘a purpose’.


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